This is how much of the passage to New Zealand looked. Deeply-reefed sailing upwind on port tack in 20-25 knots. There are truly no free sailboat rides to New Zealand, but the little boat straight rocked it out. Long live Bill Lapworth, the famed Cal Yachts designer.

I've written in these pages about many "changes in plans" before and i'm sure I will do so again... As you can tell from my last blog entry to this blog entry, there has been a big change in my crusing and voyaging plans. Namely sailing MONGO to New Zealand instead of Australia. And for that, I will say 'mission accomplished'!!! This was by far the most challenging and daunting passage and test that MONGO has ever under taken and without a doubt the sweetest feeling upon completion.

It all started the moment I got to Fiji. Pretty much everyone that I met was headed to New Zealand and when I told them that I was headed to Australia, I would oftentimes get the question "why?". I would expain my motives; good market to sell the boat, great place to cruise, surfing, doing the Sydney to Hobart, etc. The more I talked to other cruisers (many of whom have 'been there, done that'), the more that I learned and began to change opinions and beliefs on the matter. It turns out that New Zealand is arguably as good a place to sell the boat, it is 100 times better of a cruising destination (at least compared to the east coast of Australia where I would have taken MONGO...) and the surf is as good or better and imminently less crowded. With no good Sydney to Hobart ride sorted out (I turned down a couple of potential offers on slow shitters), the motivation to head to Sydney was waning. As I continud hearing and reading horror stories about the Aussie bureaucracy and making friends in Fiji that were all headed to New Zealand, I became a bit upset that I was headed to Australia, even though I had a great time there last year and I love the country.

Cruising friends upon arrival in Opua. They had all made the crossing to NZ at the same time as I did. L to R: Tony and Steve (Knot Tide Down), me (MONGO), Joe and Heidi (s/v Huck) and Debbie (Buena Vista). Great to arrive to friendly familiar faces after a challenging crossing and swp stories!

The final nail in the coffin came on the day before I cleared out of Fiji. After sending my pre-notice of arrival to Australia, I received two very dickish (at least in my interpretation) emails with a lot of bold-print, underlined words such as you' MUST NOT' do this and you 'MUST' do that, followed by a table of fees, potential fees and other expenses that could have, at the whim of a single customs agent, literally bankrupted me.

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Fiji to New Zealand crossing on MONGO

 

3 NOV 2014 - Departed Musket Cove at 0930 on 1 NOV in a light NW’ly breeze. Said good bye to several friends on the way out and sailed out the reef channel into Musket Cove and towards Namotu Island. Pumping SSW swell was due to arrive that day, yet I decided to embark for New Zealand and forego surfing. Boards were stowed and final preparations were made before leaving Musket Cove. Raced the South African-flagged Leopard 45 catamaran Amphitreete towards Namotu. They were slightly faster but could not point as high; it was a draw. They gave in, dropped the jib and motored towards Tavarua Island to go surfing at ‘Restaurants’. Tony and Steve on Knot Tide Down motored past me with no sails set and motored towards the pass between Namotu and Tavarua. That is the deepest and widest pass, yet as I became more and more headed in SW’ly breeze, I was able to tack to port and effectively lay Wilkes Pass. Wilkes is more shallow at just 12-15 meters minimum depth and not as wide but it looked do-able. A quick tack back to starboard near Namotu and then back to port and I was lined up for the pass, able to put the bow down and really power the boat up under full main and working jib. Sailed 20 meters to leeward of a moored surf-transport boat at Namotu Lefts. Sailed up and over several big set waves, none of which were breaking in the pass, and sailed out between Namotu Lefts surf break and Wilkes Pass surf break. Received a nice salute from the six surfers in the water at Namotu Lefts. No one ever claimed that sailing an engineless boat wasn’t dodgy at times. Another solid adrenaline rush on MONGO.

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MONGO in the land of giants at Port Denarau Marina.

Only one thing is certain on the good ship MONGO, and that's that nothing is certain. After 10 days in New Zealand, I caught a red-eye back to Fiji and have been on the boat for the last couple of weeks;  surfing, sailing, sick for a few days and now prepping for the journey to Australia. My sailing journalism work in France fell through and I declined a delivery as I wasn't wild with the terms. Unexpectedly, I was looking at another hole in my schedule and the decision was in front of me again. Should I stay or should I go? For a variety of reasons I have decided to go. Fiji has been absolutley spectacular and I have found in these islands a place where I could happily live and play, either short-term or long, but this journey on MONGO is exactly that... a journey. And all journeys must come to an end at some point. If I wish to sell the boat and return back to California before the northern-hemi spring like I had originally planned, then I must set sail around November 1 and get this Australia passage knocked out before the cyclone season starts. MONGO is currently in Port Denarau Marina where I am taking care of three months of deferred maintenance and making my preparations for what will likely be MONGO's final long ocean passage.

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The Elliott 10.5-meter Squealer comfortably resting back in her slip in Tauranga,
New Zealand after a challenging yet very rewarding delivery from Fiji. 
Cool boat, good people, great adventure, nice couple of places. Stoked!
 
I rolled up my mat after some 8 am yoga and headed over to the coffee shack for a flat white. The air was warm, the conditions were calm and the surf was forecast to be up. A good start to another beautiful day in Fiji. As I walked back to my kayak to paddle back out to MONGO, two young boys chased each other around the dock in an endless display of youth and energy. “Life must never be boring”, I said to the woman walking next to me. She laughed in reply, sparking a conversation in which she casually mentioned that her family needs their 35-foot race boat delivered back to New Zealand. 
 
“I deliver boats”, I replied in a knee-jerk reaction with no thought applied before speaking. In a matter of minutes, i’m down below with the woman and her husband going over the boat. After dismasting while leading the Auckland to Fiji race overall in 2013, she got a brand-new carbon fiber mast, and in 2011 was the benefactor of a massive re-fit overseen by designer Greg Elliott himself. The lime green boat with the big black rig was undeniably cool and seemed, to me at least, to be inherently seaworthy. We talked business.
 
The Elliott 10.5-meter Squealer had just finished fourth overall in the Auckland to Fiji race, nipping the J/111 Django over the line by an incredible 10 seconds after a week and 1,400 miles of racing. I had read the story months before on Sailing Anarchy. The story I hadn’t heard however, as a result of being at sea while en route to Fiji, was that Django was abandoned in very severe weather on the way home to New Zealand when her rudder shaft failed, leaving the rudder and half it’s post to begin ripping a hole in the bottom. The entire crew was rescued at sea. The delivery skipper that the boat owners had previously arranged backed out and they were in a bind.
 
“After telling me the story of your boat dismasting in Fiji and then your closest competitors likely sinking on the way home to New Zealand and being rescued at sea, you’re now asking me to deliver your 35-foot tiller boat with no dodger and a 20-year old tiller pilot back to New Zealand in what is admittedly pretty early in the season?”, I asked. “Yeah pretty much”, the man replied. 

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